Antonio Gramsci: A Brief Introduction

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Introductory discourse…

Marx’s theory is overly deterministic:

If revolution is inevitable, where is the space for human agency?

  • On the one hand, Marx says capitalism doomed to die by its own contradictions,but on the other, revolution has to be brought on by our actions –contradiction?
  • Theory insufficiently flexible to explain diverse outcomes: anything can be explained by “we’re not there yet”
  • Marx/Engels never imagined possibility of the emergence of a new form of capitalism (advanced or regulated capitalism) that would temper the tendency toward crisis, grant concessions to working class in order to contain conflict
  • Later Marxists try to address some of these problems in Marxist thought
  • Marx/Engels fall into traps when trying to establish inflexible laws for all history
  • The other side of Marxism is the human shaping of a collective will
  • A movement of people in solidarity only possible when people share a vision of the world
  • This vision leads them to come together, to act
  • Gramsci thus explores what those visions are, how we get them
  • Ideology and politics are central to capitalism, not just appendages of economic structure
  • Where Marx/Engels thought class struggle inevitable because of exploitative structure of capitalist economy, Gramsci said no: state actively forges class compromise to defuse revolution
  • capitalism is based on force and consent
  • force is carried out by state on behalf of capitalism
  • consent is achieved through institutions of civil society (church, unions, schools, media) which are connected to state by “a thousand threads”

 

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

  • Born in Sardinia (Italy), 1891
  • One of few great Marxists from a working class background
  • Imprisoned under Mussolini, wrote Prison Notebooks

 

Antonio Gramsci’ Idea

  • Intellectuals “are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’.” They work to secure:
  1. The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige… which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.
  2. The apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively.” (p. 12)

 

Hegemony

  • constellation of ideologies (not one idea) that represent interests of dominant group presented as interests of all
  • hegemonic ideology appears to be “common sense,” is internalized by most people as “the only way of running society”
  • this is the terrain of struggle; it doesn’t make sense to talk about a revolution if people don’t even want to revolt
  • can’t step outside hegemonic ways of understanding the world, can only reorganize them, reconfigure them in interests of working class (counterhegemony)
  • How do we do this? How do we contest “common sense” if people think that’s all that’s possible?
  • Key role for intellectuals/education/schooling because help shape ideas
  • Two kinds of intellectuals:

– Traditional intellectuals (appear neutral of any class base, but in fact keep system in place by reproducing its ideas)

– Organic intellectuals (tied to their class)

  • The challenge was for working class to develop own organic intellectuals, and for some previously traditional intellectuals to side with the working class and convince people that other ways were possible

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